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Office Communications Online may be the smallest and least trumpeted of the four central BPOS applications, but that doesn’t make it any less useful. Put simply, this is the instant messaging branch of the suite.
You might think that having a subscription-based IM client is a bit distasteful when the world is already overrun with free IM clients and networks, especially when said service currently requires use of the Office Communicator 2007 R2 client (Microsoft deploys OCS 2007 IM/presence servers in its datacenter). However, Office Communications Online has several advantages in a business setting. First off, there’s presence integration with SharePoint, Exchange, and other Office elements. You’ve got the ability to have person-to-person voice and video sessions through various company firewalls with minimal network tweaking. With all of the commercial-level filtering involved, you also won’t be getting stray viruses or pop-ups from strangers with curious names like VanillaKitten9. Not least of all, don’t forget that this is a cloud application, so all of the security and configuration risks that go along with consumer IM clients disappear here.
Note that as of this writing, Office Communicator 2007 R2 is a BPOS requirement, and part of Communicator deals with instant messaging, including links to your Outlook calendar and messaging for determining presence information. A version called Communicator Web Access is planned, but until this is available, Microsoft is providing Communicator 2007 for free. After that, Communicator 2007 will be optional.
Only a few years ago, IM was often dismissed as a toy for teens, not a serious business tool. This has changed. As much as email can increase productivity over old school phone calling in many cases, IM can improve productivity over email. But that productivity gets magnified when integrated into a broader tool group like BPOS.